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Social Emotional Learning over the Summer


Last summer I worked really hard to focus on Social Emotional Learning with my kids, instead of just academics. Here are some of the things we did:

This summer I’ve got a new plan cooked up. I’m taking my inspiration from Romans chapter 12, but please don’t let that dissuade you. If religion isn’t your thing, you could choose a poem instead and use the same idea. (I’m Methodist and you’ll get no judgement from me.)

I chose this particular section of Romans because it hits upon some really BIG concepts in Emotional Intelligence. Recognizing and responding to the emotions of others in a socially appropriate way is HUGE.

Take a look for yourself. My game plan follows.


I sectioned off the passage on sentence strip paper, with one sentence on each strip. Each particular verse gets its own color. There are 25 strips of paper.

Every couple of days, I’m going to bring out a new strip. At the dinner table, our family will discuss what the verse means, and then review all previous strips.

There’s room for a lot of discussion. What does “Agree with one another,” mean for example? Should you always agree with people? Should you agree with somebody who is doing something hurtful?

Another good one is “Be careful to do what everyone thinks is right.” What if everyone is doing the wrong thing? What about slavery and the civil rights movement? What about peer pressure?

I think this activity is going to open us up to some juicy dinner-time conversation!

When possible, we’re also going to put the words into action. “Welcome others into your homes,” for example, might correspond with my son inviting a friend to sleep over.

This summer I’d like my family’s hearts refocused on what’s important. But I also want my kids to think deep thoughts and to be encouraged to ask questions.

And if my kids would get along 20% better? My prayers would be answered!

Boys & Girls Learn Differently, Online Book Club: Chapter 2


Are you reading Boys and Girls Learn Differently! A Guide for Teachers and Parents by Michael Gurian? If so, I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts on Chapter two. Please leave a comment or question below.

First, a brief one-sentence synopsis of what this books is about:

Once parents and teachers understand how male and female brains develop differently, they are better able to educate children.

My notes from Chapter two:

What does the most current research say about brain differences in girls and boys?

  • On average, boys do better on fast, multiple-choice tests because they tend to have stronger deductive reasoning skills (start with big picture, then look at details).
  • On average, girls do better with open ended questions because they tend to have stronger inductive reasoning skills (start with details, build up to big picture).
  • In general, boys do better than girls with abstract thinking. Girls will often have an easier time learning math if they have access to concrete manipulatives.
  • Girls often use language as they learn, boys are more likely to be learn silently.
  • Girls listen better and can still learn when a teacher is overly verbose or wanders. Boys need clear examples.
  • Boys are more likely to get bored.
  • Boys use more physical space.
  • Girls don’t usually need to move as much while they are learning.
  • Movement helps boys learn, which is why silent fidget toys are often helpful.
  • Girls often master cooperative groups earlier than boys.
  • There’s a section on page 48 about pecking orders. Girls can be at the bottom of a pecking order and still often get better grades than boys at the bottom of pecking orders.
  • There’s a section on pages 50-52 about Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences.
  • An interesting thought on page 53. Teachers often try to calm down young boys who are taking up a lot of space and being overtly physical (managing the spatial part of the brain to encourage linguistics). Maybe teacher should also be doing the opposite–encouraging girls to be more physical (managing the linguistic to encourage the spatial).
  • Pages 54-57 offer interesting data about the advantages for boys and challenges for girls in our school systems, as well as the opposite.

What are your thoughts on Chapter two?


Helping Kids Calm Down


Kids are under a lot of stress these days, especially at the end of the school year. Between homework assignments, late-night sports games and the ordinary trials and tribulations of riding home on the school bus, our kids are under pressure. Perform,  behave, be quiet; it can be very difficult to be a child.

A panacea to all of this stress is a good night’s sleep. But that’s easier said than done.

Can't fall asleep? Let's turn on your CD.

Can’t fall asleep? Let’s turn on your CD.

A while back I wrote a post called Bedtime CDs can lull your kids to sleep where I shared my family’s success using sleep CDs we had purchased for bedtime. One of the CDs featured was Sleep Solutions by Roberta Shaprio. She later emailed me and offered to send me another one of her CDs for free, in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

The CD I chose was Goodbye Worries, Guided meditation to train your mind to quiet your thoughts. It is excellent!

Unlike Sleep Solutions, Goodbye Worries is not a sleep CD per se. But it is extremely useful for winding minds down. It includes five tracks, an introduction plus four guided meditation activities.

I especially like how the CD focuses on sending bothersome thoughts away from your mind. Track #3 helps you imagine a barrier to protect yourself from worries.

Sometimes when you son or daughter is upset or stressed it can be difficult to know how to help. Snuggling up on the couch and listening to a CD like this is a great option.

Speaking out against corporal punishment

This is a cooking tool, NOT a way to teach your child.

This is a cooking tool, NOT a way to teach your child!

I’ve had two days now to think about The Helping Boys Thrive Summit. 98% of the conference was mind-blowing amazing. But it ended with a really disturbing Q & A session about corporal punishment. I felt like the panel of experts made light of a serious topic and missed out on an opportunity to educate parents.

My position is clear. There are better ways to teach children than by hitting them.

At the conference, Michael Gurian, founder of The Gurian Institute, did say that spanking to cause pain, spanking on the skin, and spanking with an object is child abuse.

Dr. Greg Jantz, a nationally renowned psychologist and founder of The Center: A Place of Hope, said his family used natural consequences, which I assumed was code for Love and Logic methods. Love and Logic is absolutely opposed to corporal punishment as well.

Today I did a quick internet search and found this article from CNN, Effects of physical discipline linger for adults, where Dr. Jantz more definitely warns against the dangers of corporal punishment. Scroll down to the bottom third of the text and you will find his opinion.

I believe that parents and especially Christian parents need to speak out against corporal punishment. We are living in a society were there are 660,000 copies of Michael and Debbi’s Pearl’s book in print. There are three copies avaialable at my local library!

Punching a tween boy in the chest and hitting him with a foot-long paddle is child abuse. Joking about it to a crowd of strangers is emotional abuse. Anyone who laughs about it should be ashamed.

If you are interested in exploring discipline methods beyond spanking, here are some affiliate links to Amazon to get you started. Most of these books area also available at your library.

Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting (Little Hearts Handbooks)

Parenting With Love And Logic (Updated and Expanded Edition)

Parenting Teens With Love And Logic: Preparing Adolescents for Responsible Adulthood, Updated and Expanded Edition

Positive Discipline

Boys & Girls Learn Differently, Online Book Club: Chapter 1


Are you reading Boys and Girls Learn Differently! A Guide for Teachers and Parents by Michael Gurian? If so, I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts on Chapter one. Please leave a comment or question below.

First, a brief one-sentence synopsis of what this books is about:

Once parents and teachers understand how male and female brains develop differently, they are better able to educate children.

Chapter one opens with a discussion of MRI and PET scan research. There is a big chart showing every last part of the brain and how it often develops and reacts differently in boys and girls. This has profound implications in real life.

For example, research shows that girls often process emotions quicker than boys. If you and your daughter get in a fight over breakfast, she will probably have processed her emotions by the time she is at school and supposed to learn.

But for your son it’s different. After an argument at the breakfast table, his brain might stay flooded with emotions that he’s unable to process for a few hours. When he gets to school, the limbic system is the middle of his brain might still have heavy blood flow. His emotions could literally shut down the top part of his brain used for higher order content thinking–like math.  (Summarized from pages 19 and 31)

Let’s take this a step further. What if something happens to your son at school or on the bus that causes him to have an emotional response that he can’t process? By the time he walks through the front door, he’s already emotionally fragile. You, the parent, have no idea. You ask him to clean out his lunch box and he flips out.

Is that a reaction to Mom asking a simple request or is it a response to something that happened an hour ago at recess?

Hmmmmm… This parenting thing is tricky business!

What are your thoughts on Chapter one?


Sleep CDs for Kids

Can't fall asleep? Let's turn on your CD.

“Can’t fall asleep? Let’s turn on your CD.”

Unless your children are aliens you’ve probably had your share of trouble putting them to bed.

Now that both of my kids have CD players in their rooms, I decided to do an experiment. I purchased two sleep CDs hoping they would make bedtimes easier.

Indigo Ocean Dreams: 4 Children’s Stories Designed to Decrease Stress, Anger and Anxiety while Increasing Self-Esteem and Self-Awareness is a 60 minute CD for kids ages 6-12. It is a combination of stories, relaxation techniques and ocean music.

I can’t listen to Indigo Ocean Dreams without thinking of the Saturday Night Live “I’m okay, you’re okay, and gosh darn it, I’m worth it.” guy. It’s very New Age-y.

But guess what? The first time Jenna(4.5) listened to it she fell asleep midway through the second story. Easiest bedtime ever! Also, the story about an angry octopus could be very helpful with kids who struggle with temper issues.

The second CD is called Sleep Solutions (The Calming Collection). It’s actually for adults, but also appropriate for older kids.

Sleep Solutions has four tracks: an introduction, a track for deep sleep, and two countdowns for falling back to sleep after you wake up. It has a woman’s voice and some New Age music leading you through visualization techniques.

“Sleep Solutions” has four tracks: an introduction, a track for deep sleep, and two countdowns for falling back to sleep after you wake up. It has a woman’s voice and some electronic music leading you through visualization techniques.

A few nights ago I put on tract #2 for my son and he fell asleep in under ten minutes too. The track hadn’t even finished!

Now three days later, both CDs continue to work. I turn them on, lay down with my kids for about ten minutes, and they fall asleep fast.

I am so amazed by these results that I’m still in shock. Bedtimes just got 50% easier! 

To Train up a Child, by Michael and Debi Pearl


Here is my “I Brake for Moms” column from yesterday’s Herald:

No child deserves parenting by the rod.

Luckily, I researched and wrote this article about Michael and Debi Pearl’s book “To Train up a Child” before I broke my wrist. One handed typing really slows me down. 😦

What I didn’t address in my column due to word count limitations, was homeschooling. I have carefully analyzed the copyright and decided not to share direct quotes. But page 101 is a crazed, bizarre manifesto, completely out of touch with reality.

There is a full-paragraph rant claiming that Planned Parenthood, the police, drug dealers, social workers and pharmaceutical companies are in league with the National Education Association to reap money by turning classroom education  into pits of despair.

The Pearls advise you to never put your children in private Christian or public school.They believe that leaving kids home to be corporally chastised is so much better.

To be clear, I support the right to homeschool your children. I understand that for many situations homeschooling is the best academic choice for children.

But I also believe that we as a society need to do something to protect homeschooled children who are in dangerous environments.

Now, I’m left with a conundrum. The intellectual in me would never consider burning a book. But I’m unclear about what to do with my copy of “To Train up a Child”. I truly believe that in the wrong hands, this book is dangerous.

So if you are a blogger who would like to review this book and help spread the word about the Pearls, I’ll send you my copy for free. It will be a relief to get it out of the house!


Wooden Spoons and Christians


I come from a loving, atheist home that was completely absent of all corporal punishment. Not everyone is so lucky…

This week I’ve been reading stories from adult survivors of traumatic childhood discipline from Christian families and it’s made me think hard of some of the things I witnessed as a child growing up in the 70s, 80s, and early 90s.

It’s really difficult to take off my 2014 goggles. In today’s world, corporal punishment of children has been scientifically proven to be counterproductive as well as abhorrent. But a couple of decades ago, parents didn’t know better, right?

Right??? Um… I think???

The more I ponder, the more I realize that my childhood memories of what I witnessed happening to other kids are confusing and hard to process.

Which of these juveniles were being abused, and which were being lovingly disciplined?

  • The 8 year-old who had belt marks on her back that showed while changing into her swim suit
  • The teenager whose mother locked her in the bathroom in front of family and friends to humiliate and contain her
  • The 6 year-old whose mom gave him a bloody nose when she slapped him
  • The teenage daughter whose mother slapped her for talking back
  • The children whose mother brought a wooden spoon to our house to use for intimidation and discipline
  • The father who belted his teenage son

That was a trick question. I don’t know the answer. But with my 2014 goggles, it’s hard not to judge.

As a child, I had no idea. I thought that was all normal behavior in families that spanked. Plus many of those kids came from Evangelical, go-to-church-multiple-times-a-week homes. Their families prided themselves on being good Christians.

Now, I’m left wondering. Were the parents reading precursors to books like To Train up a Child? Were worse things happening that I wasn’t aware of?

I’ll never know.

Proverbs 13: 24 says “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. (NIV)


Psalm 23: 4 says “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (NIV)

I’m not a Biblical school, but to me it seems that “the rod” is most likely a shepherds hook that you would use to keep your sheep safe–not beat them with.

There are so many better ways to discipline a child than with physical violence.

I hope that my childhood friends who grew up with corporal punishment are able to break the cycle.

I hope they have 2014 goggles on too.

What Parents Can Learn from Bronies

Why should I give a hoof?

Why should I give a hoof?

I’m Generation X which means I’m old.( sigh) I guess that’s why I never heard of Bronies until the documentary Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony popped up on my Netflix screen. For the uninitiated, Bronies are tween, teen and adult males who LOVE the television series “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” created by Laruen Faust, (NOT the previous shows from the 1980s.)

I’m not a Millennial, so my first reaction was “What the heck?” But then the third grade teacher in me had an epiphany. Social Emotional Learning–how to get along with our fellow human beings– is one of the hardest things to teach. For some reason, young men who have previously felt excluded from typical boy society are connecting with this show. They are learning social skills, making friends online and through conventions, and expressing themselves through art, music and charity. Their lives are better, and all because of a cartoon.

I wanted to find out why…

To be honest, I’ve overheard “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” dozens of times while I’m making dinner, but I had never sat down with my four-year-old daughter and watched it with her in its entirety until this week, when she’s been home sick.

From the very first episode, I can see the appeal. The series starts out with Twilight Sparkles being her own worst enemy. She is so lost in books and learning, that she ignores all of the conventional steps needed to make and keep friends. It’s hard to tell if she doesn’t know how to make friends, or just doesn’t care.

Any parent who has struggled to teach kids social skills can relate. “When somebody hands you a book, say ‘thank you’. When you ask someone for a favor, say ‘please’.” Some kids come out of the womb already knowing these things, and others need to be taught explicitly. It’s easier to teach a child to read than to be charming.

As “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” moves along, the episodes sprinkle social emotional learning lessons with other aspects that hold an adult’s attention. There are huge vocabulary words, alliteration, and creatures pulled from ancient mythology. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine, although there’s a lot of that too.

The Easiest Way to Teach Social Emotional Learning

The Easiest Way to Teach Social Emotional Learning

I talk a lot on my blog about Afterschooling, which is when parents provide meaningful, structured instruction to their children at home to help shore up learning gaps, or provide extra enrichment. Sometimes, for certain children, learning deficits are social. I’ve shared ideas for promoting social emotional learning in the past, and would like to add “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” to that list.

It turns out, “My Little Pony” is something to neigh about.

Reverse Popcorn Jars

What's in the jar?

What’s in the jar?

Does anyone remember my popcorn experiment from earlier this year?  My goal was to catch my kids being good, and it worked.  But after a month, the novelty wore off and we moved on to stamp books.

Now we’re back to popcorn again, but this time I’ve added a new twist that is buried in each jar.


Instead of putting kernels into the jars, we will be taking them out.  Popcorn removal will be based on three qualities:

  1. Showing genuine appreciation.
  2. Thinking about somebody else’s point of view.
  3. Being kind.


The reward? Junky candy that I don’t usually buy!

“Be Nice to your Sister/Brother” books

"Be Nice to Your Sibling" books

“Be Nice to Your Sibling” books

I’m a big believer in behavior modification through token economies.  I find that it’s really easy to catch my kids being bad, but it’s much harder to remember to catch them being good.  A token system helps me be a better Mom.

So when my kids started squabbling like cats and dogs this past week, I decided to get creative.  I made each kid their own stamp book to help us all identify and acknowledge positive sibling interactions, as opposed to negative ones.

Here’s how it works.  Everybody gets their own color stamp.  Bruce can stamp in Jenna’s book, Jenna can stamp in Bruce’s book, and my husband and I can stamp in both.

When we catch somebody being an extra nice brother or sister, we give that person a stamp.

20 stamps per day = "a positive day".  10 positive days earns a fun trip with Daddy.

20 stamps per day = “a positive day”. 10 positive days earns a fun trip with Daddy.

The boxes on the right are for kid stamps.  The page on the left is for mom and dad stamps.

Kids can give each other up to 8 stamps a day.

Kids can give each other up to 8 stamps a day.

An interesting note is that the first day we did this it took my kids until 9 PM to realize that they could seriously cooperate and give each other stamps.  By day two, the kid stamp section was already filled in by lunch!

We’re not going to do this system forever; just until September.  But boy, has it made a big difference already.

What about you?  Are sibling squabbles and issue in your house?

Someone Else’s Shoes


A while back I reviewed Gratitude Attitude, a new CD coming out in August that I think is a great way to help kids develop Emotional Intelligence.

Now I’ve got a new CD to add to our playlist.  Someone Else’s Shoes – The Best Foot Forward Children’s Music Series from Recess Music is my latest complimentary CD to review in exchange for my honest opinion and review.  It’s from the same people who produced Gratitude Attitude.

There were a lot of songs on “Someone Else’s Shoes” that I absolutely loved: “There’s No Such Thing As Normal!” by Dan Dan Doodlebug, “Be Nice To Old People” by Jamie Broza , and  “Just the Way You Are”, by  Kelsey Friday & The Rest of the Week are all top favorites.

A couple of the songs near the beginning of the CD struck me as being best suited for the under 5 years-old-set.  I’m pretty sure that if you played “You Hurt My Feelings” by Troubador to a third grade classroom the eight-year-olds would mock you.  That doesn’t mean it’s not a good song, it’s just very earnest.

But the fact that I was thinking about using this CD in a classroom setting at all, is one of the reasons I really liked it.  Yes, it’s great for home use, but it could also be good for school.

When I was a teacher in California my district did not provide Para educators to supervise recess. This meant that the teachers had to take turns for yard duty. If it rained, everyone was stuck indoors, teachers too.

Probably any CD in the “Best Foot Forward” series would be a really great soundtrack to rainy day recess.  You could also play this music when kids were practicing cursive.

Both “Someone Else’s Shoes” and “Gratitude Attitude” offer really positive messages to kids and family.  That’s a shot in the arm that we can all use.

Gratitude Attitude

Recess Music - Gratitude Attitude

I received a free copy of the CD Gratitude Attitude in exchange for my honest opinion and review, and whoa!  I love it!  I now want to collect Recess Music’s entire “Best Foot Forward” series.  It’s Social Emotional Learning put to music.

How to get along with your fellow humans can be the hardest thing to teach.

How to get along with your fellow humans can be the hardest thing to teach.

My family has been working really hard to encourage emotional intelligence, and this CD is the perfect compliment to what we’ve been talking about.

What's earning popcorn right now!

A family discussion about appreciation.

We listened to  Gratitude Attitude on the way up to the mountains this past weekend, and it practically inoculated my kids with good manners.  For the first thirty minutes after we got out of the car, they were really good about saying thank you.  (Then the effect wore off!)  But “Use a napkin not your mom” by Kathy Kallick has already made a reappearance in everyday discussion.

My favorite song on this CD is “Love you a Million” by Mary Kaye. The former Girl Scout camp counselor in me thinks it would make a great campfire song.

My husband really likes “There’s a Pea on My Plate” by Bill Harley, and “The Table Manners Polka” by Mike Soloway.

My three-year-old, who has been listening to this CD extensively in her room on her own time, is partial to “I’m Glad You’re Here”, by Debbie and Friends.  (That might just be because it’s song #1, and she has a hard time working her CD player.)  But I do think that “I’m Glad You’re Here” would be a great welcome song for Kindergarten or preschool.

“Only Take What You Need”, by Earth Mama, is also a family favorite.  That would be another great song for the campfire too…

This CD is definitely a keeper.  I think I’m going to buy Someone Else’s Shoes – The Best Foot Forward Children’s Music Series from Recess Music next.

Showing Genuine Appreciation

I'm going to catch my kids "being good".

I’m going to catch my kids “being good”.

Our popcorn experiment continues!  It went 110% awesome for the first two days, and then started a slow decline after that.  But once the jars got filled up that first time, so did everyone’s energy levels.  Now we are changing things up, and back in action.

What's earning popcorn right now!

What’s earning popcorn right now!

Right now, we are examining gratitude and appreciation.  We had a big family discussion on what it means to show genuine appreciation, and are putting that talk into action.

How to get along with your fellow humans can be the hardest thing to teach.

How to get along with your fellow humans can be the hardest thing to teach.

For more ideas about Social Emotional Learning, check out my new Pinterest board E.Q. versus I.Q.

E.I. versus I.Q.

How to get along with your fellow humans can be the hardest thing to teach.

How to get along with your fellow humans can be the hardest thing to teach.

When I was a teacher at the San Carlos Charter Learning Center, our school spent two years studying Social Emotional Learning (SEL).  Parents and teachers read, reread, and discussed Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence; Why it can matter more than I.Q.”  We also brought in experts to train us how to teach SEL better.

Am I an expert at E.I. versus I.Q.?  No way!  But I do think about it a lot.

What I’ve learned as a parent is that it’s really hard to teach kids how to handle somebody “pushing your buttons”.  Some people naturally handle this better than others, I think.  Other’s need help learning effective strategies for dealing with interpersonal stress.

Kindness, one of the most important things to teach.

Kindness, one of the most important things to teach.

A book that has got me thinking about E.I. all over again with new meaning, is Dale Carnegie’s classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People”.  I’ve been reading it on my Kindle.

What Carnegie was describing seems to be SEL at its best.  (Click here for the summary on Wikipedia.)

Right now I’m thinking of ways to use Carnegie’s ideas in my own parenting.  I’d like for my children to do all that he suggests; begin in a friendly way, show genuine interest in other people, smile, see things from another person’s point of view, readily admit when they are wrong, and so much more.

That’s why we now have two mason jars on our kitchen table, and popcorn at the ready.

I'm going to catch my kids "being good".

I’m going to catch my kids “being good”.

This week, the SEL skill my family is focusing on is Kindness.  When I notice my kids being kind, I add some popcorn kernels to their jars.  When the jars are filled up, we are popping the corn and watching a movie together.

This popcorn trick is an old-standby a lot of teachers use in the classroom to encourage good behavior.  But I’m hoping it will work here at home too.

Stay tuned for more of our SEL journey this summer.  Each week we’ll be focusing on something new.

If you have any thoughts about Daniel Goleman or Dale Carnegie, please chime in.  I love discussion!